| Book of Abraham |
Did Joseph Smith Know Egyptian?
In a letter addressed to Grant S. Heward of Midvale, Utah, an outspoken
critic of the book of Abraham, William Foxwell Albright, the doyen of American
ancient Near Eastern studies, wrote:
There does appear to be evidence that Joseph Smith had studied
some Egyptian. For one thing, he undoubtedly spent a great deal of money
and effort in trying to master Egyptian, but, as you know, when the Book
of Mormon was written, Egyptian had just begun to be deciphered and it
is all the more surprising that there are two Egyptian names, Paanch and
Pahor(an) which appear together in the Book of Mormon in close connection
with a reference to the original language as being "Reformed Egyptian."
Albright is mistaken about Joseph Smith having "studied some Egyptian,"
for no materials were available to him for such studies when the Book of
Mormon was published; thus the Prophet had to rely on divine inspiration
in translating the Nephite record. But the letter, dated 25 July 1966,
reveals Albright's scholarly opinion that the appearance of Egyptian in
the Book of Mormon is remarkable. Albright's closing paragraph is also
I do not for a moment believe that Joseph Smith was trying
to mislead anyone; I accept the point of view of a Jewish friend of mine
at the University of Utah [probably Louis C. Zucker], that he was a religious
genius and that he was quite honest in believing that he really could decipher
these ancient texts. But to insist that he did [mislead] is really doing
a disservice to the cause of a great church and its gifted founder.
The letter was located in the Klaus Baer correspondence file at the University
of Chicago by FARMS researcher Boyd Petersen. Hugh Nibley, emeritus professor
of ancient studies at BYU, was the first to point out the Egyptian nature
of the Book of Mormon names Paanchi and Pahoran.